From the May Fourth Movement to Communist Revolution

Guo Moruo and the Chinese Path to Communism

By Xiaoming Chen

Subjects: Asian Religion And Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Philosophy and Culture
Paperback : 9780791471388, 168 pages, June 2008
Hardcover : 9780791471371, 168 pages, July 2007

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
1. Toward Individual Emancipation and Personal Moral/Spiritual Salvation

From the May Fourth Individualist Rebellion to the Marxist Cause of Individual Emancipation


A May Fourth Individualist Awakening
From the May Fourth Individualist Awakening to a Marxist Radical Approach to Individual Emancipation


Striving for Personal Moral/Spiritual Salvation: From a May Fourth Confucian Focus to a Communist Confucian Battle


A May Fourth Focus
Shifting the Focus

2. Toward National Salvation

May Fourth Love and Concern for the Motherland
The Mid-1920s: Dedication to Saving China through Communist Revolution

3. Toward the Liberation of Mankind

A May Fourth Cosmopolitanist Ideal of Datong: A Pastoral/Primitive Paradise


The Datong Ideal
The Cosmopolitan World and the Individual and the Cosmopolitan World and the Nation
The Cosmopolitanist Ideal and a “Mentality of Extremes”
The Means to Achieve the Ideal: Leftist Radicalism to Save the World?


The Mid-1920s: Finding a Modern “Scientific” Echo of Datong in Marxism and Committing to Revolution


Attracted to the Marxist Cosmopolitanist Ideal
Committing to Marxist/Leninist Revolution as the Means to Achieve the Cosmopolitanist Ideal

4. Toward a Solution to Modern China’s Intellectual Crisis

A May Fourth Solution to the Intellectual Crisis


Defending the Best of Chinese Tradition 
Combining the Best of China with Modern Western Science and Goetheanism
A May Fourth Synthesis of the Best of the East and West as a Solution to the Intellectual Crisis


The Mid-1920s: Solving China’s Intellectual Crisis through the Combination of Confucianism and Marxism/Leninism


Redefining the Best of the East and West
The Formation of a Confucian/Marxist/Leninist Communist Synthesis


Using the life and work of influential Chinese writer Guo Moruo (1892–1978), reflects on China’s encounters with modernity, Communism, and capitalism.


Why did China's intellectuals turn to Communism? Reflecting on China's encounters with modernity, Communism, and capitalism, Xiaoming Chen offers an explanation by using as a case study the life and work of influential Chinese writer Guo Moruo (1892–1978). Guo was dedicated to the May Fourth Movement, which sought to bring reform, republicanism, and modern Western ideas to China, but abandoned these ideals for Communism in the mid-1920s. While the hope of national salvation was a major factor in Guo's conversion, Chen suggests other reasons, including a desire to save the whole world, a goal that was consistent with the traditional Confucian call to not only "manage the state" but also "harmonize the world." Chen also argues that despite the collectivist and totalitarian outcome of the Chinese Communist movement, Marx's initial promise of ultimate individual emancipation served as a major attraction to intellectuals like Guo, who came to view Marxist Communism as the most efficient and thorough way to fulfill their dream of individual freedom.

The book covers Guo's intellectual and personal transitions, how the fight against the Confucian family system became the Marxist emancipation of the individual from capitalism, and how the Confucian struggle against sexual desire ceded to a struggle against material desires. The various combinations of Western and Confucian thought that Guo adopted ultimately led to a synthesis of Confucianism and Marxism-Leninism.

Xiaoming Chen is Associate Professor of History at Ohio Wesleyan University.


"While hundreds of books on Guo have been published in Chinese, only a few studies in English are exclusively on Guo's life or works, among which, Xiaoming Chen's monograph … is, so far, the most important … Chen's study of the early years of Guo Moruo has made an important addition to the study of Guo as well as the path of Chinese intellectuals to … Communism." — China Review International

"…moves with ease from Guo Moruo's early embrace of Confucian idealism to his later advocacy of Communist revolution … Chen's own rich sources point to philosophical and political dilemmas that continue to affect Chinese intellectuals even today." — China Quarterly

"This short book offers a different perspective on the role of Confucianism in the May Fourth period and shows in meticulous detail how commitment to Confucian values as well as critiques of it justified at least one intellectual's turn to Marxism … Those with a general interest in modern intellectual history or in Chinese history will enjoy reading this highly readable piece of scholarship." — The Historian

"…Chen offers an explanation for the debate about Guo's political integrity—whether he was a loyal communist or opportunist—because of the longevity of his career … in modern Chinese history." — CHOICE

"Now that the Communist revolution has proven to be a failure, it is worthwhile to reexamine the way in which intellectuals of the early twentieth century became enamored with Communism. This book is a good example of just such a meticulous review. It addresses a very valid and central question for historians of the twentieth century, particularly in Chinese history." — Stephen Uhalley Jr., author of A History of the Chinese Communist Party